The city of Hoboken is considering a proposal from environment-friendly development firm Bijou Properties to turn an acre of land at Seventh and Jackson streets into parkland. The site used to be part of Pino Towing.
Developer Larry Bijou wants to donate the 605 Jackson St. site to the city of Hoboken in exchange for a transfer of his development rights (along with an increase of residential units) to adjacent land at 700 Monroe St. Bijou is under contract to purchase both sites, each of which have limits on how many units can be built there.
Mayor Dawn Zimmer said Tuesday that 142 units can be built between the two sites. The agreement on the table by Bijou proposes to build 14 more units at 700 Monroe in exchange for the Pino site (and its units), for a total of 156, all at 700 Monroe.
The Pino site is owned by Theresa Pino. The 700 Monroe parcel is currently in bank foreclosure and Bijou said he is in contract to purchase the property.
Community meetings will be held on April 2 and April 8 to hear the public’s comments on three different proposed southwest parks, including this one, should the park development move forward.
Step one of the process for the Pino site was for the City Council to approve the interim cost agreement for professionals between the city of Hoboken and Bijou. This includes a financial, environmental, and planning analysis. Bijou is paying the costs for the city to vet the feasibility of his plan. They approved it Wednesday night.
“I feel that everyone should have a park within walking distance.” – Mayor Dawn Zimmer
All aspects are subject to negotiation for inclusion in the redevelopment agreement, and will require City Council approval.
In addition to the 156 units, Bijou Properties hopes to build 90 automated parking spaces at 700 Monroe. The facility’s automated garage would lift a car, store it, then turn it around to be ready for pickup. It also will store the same amount of cars in one third the usual space.
A seemingly similar proposal was put forward in early 2011 by Michael Sciarra and Ursa Development. Developers met with a council subcommittee in January of 2011 and offered to build a park “as soon as possible” if the city let them erect a four building, six-story residential complex on land they already own.
The developers proposed the park, as well as the residential/retail buildings, to be built at 13th Street between Madison Street and Monroe Street, where a warehouse that Sciarra owned sat at the time.
Zimmer said Thursday that due to ongoing litigation, the city was limited in what they could say. However, she said, “The agreement proposed by Larry Bijou and the URSA proposal are completely different situations and not comparable. One is a proposal in the context of an ongoing litigation, and the other has no litigation.”
The city was also uncomfortable with the level of development proposed by Sciarra in the Western Edge area.
According to Bijou Properties, the height of the proposed building is not dependent on whether the donated park proposal prevails. Either way, the plan for 700 Monroe is to build 14 stories high. The site is already zoned residential, meaning that building heights do not have a two-story limit like industrially-zoned parts of town.
Ultimately, what will be adjusted, pending the approval of the 14 additional units, is merely commercial space.
“We had an original plan for 23,000 square feet of elevated retail space. We would be losing 20,000 square feet of that to allow for the additional units,” David Gaber, CFO and partner of Bijou Properties, said Tuesday.
The new plan will only have 3,300 square feet of retail space.
“I feel that everyone should have a park within walking distance. Within the urban lifestyle, we don’t have backyards. I feel firmly that it’s a part of the quality of life,” said Zimmer.
Some people who use the Monroe Center, an educational arts facility next door at 720 Monroe, are concerned that the new building will block their views or displace them. Currently, 20 artist lofts’ windows face the south side of 720 Monroe.
The owner of the Monroe Center, Hershy Weiss, said that he welcomes the idea of more people nearby and respects the work of Bijou, but has 20 panicked artists who are worried they’ll be displaced or won’t be able to look out their windows.
Three southwest parks on the table
Zimmer, a proponent of park space and green building, seems to be facing a win-win with this proposal. Currently, Zimmer has three plans on the table for southwest parks. One park proposal that ignited controversy is 1-acre on the southern tip of Jackson Street, known as Block 12. The acre of land is currently zoned industrial and therefore appraised much lower than residential, according to Zimmer. An open letter from Zimmer said that “the owner of Block 12 is interested in selling, but believes that the property should be valued as if it were zoned for large-scale residential development even though such a use is not permitted under its current zoning.”
The city is going forward with an eminent domain process to condemn and acquire the land at fair market value.
Zimmer has called this property an anchor from which the city can expand out into further park space, in hopes to build more than just “pocket parks” through Hoboken. There is additional space on Marshall and Harrison streets currently being looked at for park expansion.
Councilman Tim Occhipinti sent a press release out last week criticizing Zimmer’s “failure to deliver on open space promises.” Occhipinti would like to begin the process of acquiring the vacant lot and “Nardine’s Lot” at Jackson and First streets.
In Zimmer’s open letter, she says that those three properties are zoned for residential use and would be much more costly to acquire. Zimmer does not feel the choices outlined by Occhipinti are fiscally prudent.
Besides Block 12, Zimmer’s other two proposed park spaces include the aforementioned Pino site, as well as a large northwest ongoing property negotiation with owner BASF at Madison and Eleventh streets.
It’s not easy being green
In the late 1980s, Bijou, a former New York real estate commercial broker, visited the United States Testing Company at 1415 Park Ave. Bijou wanted to move into development and saw Hoboken as a town with “a lot happening.” At the time, Bijou said, there were no major projects on the north end of the city.
He began development by restoring the old Hostess building on 14th Street, completed in 2006, which today houses NY Sports Club, CVS, and Chase Bank.
With an interest in energy conservation and green living, Bijou installed Hoboken’s first extensive green roof on the old Hostess building. Green roofs eliminate storm water runoff by providing a natural place for rainwater to collect. Bijou said that in an urban place where the sewer system is challenged, like Hoboken, green roofs help minimize the water discharged into the city’s antiquated sewer system.
This was the first of many green innovations that Bijou pioneered in Hoboken.
“We’re neighborhood developers. We live here and work here. We’re not Johnny Come Latelies,” said Bijou.
Bijou has since worked to develop various LEED-certified properties in the north end. LEED, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is a program that provides a third party that oversees development from the ground up. The system awards points based on green criterion, like energy conservation, recyclable products, water-saving solutions, etc.
Certifications vary from LEED Basic, LEED Silver, LEED Gold, and LEED Platinum.
“There is a big jump from LEED Silver to LEED Gold. Gold is a real commitment,” said Gaber.
Despite the cost, Bijou has sought LEED certification in all of his recent projects.
“A developer can spend about ten percent more making his building green. So if the project is $50 million, that’s an extra $5 million. We try to be a leader in the field,” said Bijou.
“We hope that people start to recognize the Bijou brand,” Gaber added.
In other northern development…
Bijou also has plans for a 135-unit residential building at 900 Monroe St., which will have LEED gold certification. Construction is set to begin this summer and completion is expected in early 2015.
Around the same time, Park Place, also LEED Gold, should also be finished. The 212-unit, 12 story luxury rental building will take the place of Park on Park, the garage currently being demolished around 15th Street. Ironically, Park on Park at 1415 Park Ave. is also the former site of the United States Testing Company that Bijou first visited in the late 1980s.
Another of Bijou’s projects recently opened its doors.
Edge Lofts, Larry Bijou’s newest-to-open LEED Platinum venture, sits on the northwestern edge of Hoboken. The project opened its doors last week and is currently filling its 35 units.
Amanda Palasciano may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.